We live in the land of the free because of the brave. The students, staff, and parents at Christian Life School in Kenosha, Wisconsin, reminded me of that again the other day.
Veterans from all over the area were invited to a program filled with patriotic music and the anthems of each branch of the military. I was honored to speak along with a remarkable veteran from Desert Storm. Older students made up the color guard and carried in the American flag — along with each service flag.
The veterans were invited to come on stage at the end for a very special tribute. They came up by decade, with some having served more than 60 years ago. The children then sang an exceptional thank you song for the honored guests. It was a moving ceremony.
Two of the older veterans were from my hometown of Delavan, Wisconsin, who had worked in the engineering department for the city with my old neighbor Claire Condon. Mr. Condon served in both World War I and II. He came back home and spent the rest of his life serving his community.
Mr. Condon was active in his veteran’s post. He helped organize American Legion Baseball, recruited children for Boys State and Girls State, directed the band at our church, and was an assistant Scoutmaster at my troop. He loved to help other people.
Talking with those two veterans brought back some special memories. Mr. Condon organized us Scouts to put flags on the graves of the veterans each year at our local cemetery. And he put together fantastic concerts with patriotic music at our church year. I can still remember playing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Mr. Condon had us play every verse. My favorite was the fifth:
“In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free
His truth is marching on.”
While we honor all veterans this week, we especially want to remember those who died to ensure our freedoms.
One of them was Marine Corporal Richard J. Nelson. An improvised roadside bomb killed him and Lance Corporal Dean Opicka in Iraq’s Anbar province on April 14, 2008. Both Marines were part of Fox Company based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their deaths were the first of Fox Company’s second tour in Iraq. Five members of the same unit had been killed during deployment in 2004-2005.
It was Corporal Nelson’s second tour in Iraq, and he had just gotten married before he was deployed to the region. He was one of seven children born to a Vietnam veteran and a school administrator. Corporal Nelson and his wife Kristen were looking forward to starting a family of their own. He planned to go to college and become an elementary school teacher when he returned from Iraq. He never got that opportunity.
During the Veteran’s Day program at Christian Life School, I was honored to get a hug from Corporal Nelson’s mother Susan Nelson. She first invited me to speak at the program in 2015. Three years later, she retired as the school superintendent — after more than three decades in education.
Gold Star families are a special group of Americans. During my time as Milwaukee County Executive and then as Governor of Wisconsin, I was honored to meet so many remarkable people who had lost a loved one.
The Marines of the Fox Company were hit particularly hard by casualties. It was my privilege to join their families as we dedicated a very special monument to the seven heroes from Fox Company who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. We were on the Milwaukee County War Memorial that day, and the fog coming off of Lake Michigan enveloped us, so all we could see was the memorial and the Gold Star families. God was taking note.
Memorial Day is the federal holiday to honor and mourn those who died in service to our country. Veterans Day is the national holiday to honor all who have served our country. That said, honoring the deceased during this time is essential, not only to continue their legacy but also to recognize that those who served were willing to put themselves in harm’s to protect our freedoms.
We live in the land of the free because of the brave. Let us be thankful for all of the brave men and women who have defended our country. From the soldiers who began on June 14, 1775, and the Marines on Nov. 10, 1775, to all of the United States Armed Forces members serving today, thank you on behalf of a grateful nation.
• Scott Walker is the president of Young America’s Foundation and served as the 45th Governor of Wisconsin from 2011 to 2019.